My mom may not cook, but she’s an absolute authority when it comes to eating out at restaurants. She and my dad eat out almost every night of the week and they do so with a real zest for excitement and experience; they love to patronize busy restaurants, especially ones that are hard to get into. Which is why I had the idea to call my mom, this morning, to ask her for her tips on getting into an impossible-to-get-into restaurant. What follows is her top secret advice.
1. Develop a rapport with the host or hostess. It’s not enough just to call up and say, “Hi, I’d like a reservation for two people on Saturday night.” Introduce yourself, explain the circumstances of this dinner (“It’s our anniversary,” “It’s my son’s birthday”) and charm your way into their good graces—very likely, there are a few tables being held for V.I.P.s; maybe you can snag one of them. If the host or hostess is chilly, you can always ask to speak to the manager; once again, lay on the charm (“we’re only going to be in town for a few days,” “we’re such big fans of the chef”) and see if you can work some magic.
2. Put yourself on multiple waiting lists. If you’re visiting a city that has a few hard-to-get-into restaurants, all of which are completely booked, put yourself on several waiting lists—this increases your odds of getting into one and doesn’t cause the restaurants any harm (if they call and you’re already going somewhere else, just let them know).
3. Call back a few times. The squeaky wheel gets the cooking grease, so don’t be shy about following up with the restaurants you’re hoping to patronize. That’s not to say be a pest: but by showing your commitment and dedication to dining at this particular spot, you might win over the host or hostess. And even if you don’t win them over, they may grow so tired of dealing with you they’ll finally relent and give you a table.
4. Build a relationship with the concierge at your hotel. If you’re staying at a nice hotel, chances are that the concierge has connections at the best restaurants in that city. And if you go to that city often, and stay at that hotel often, it pays to ask for that same concierge over and over again–to the point where they may be able to help you get into restaurants they can’t get other hotel guests into. And if you go to that hotel REALLY often, it’s always nice to buy the concierge an occasional gift.
5. Go In Person. If all else fails, it’s always best to go to a restaurant in person and to talk to whomever you can face-to-face. On the phone, it’s easy to be dismissive; with someone standing right there, it’s a different story. And if, after an in-person appeal, you still can’t score a traditional reservation, show up at night around 6:30 or 7, and you may very likely get a table at the bar. (Note from Adam: this happened to me once at Babbo.)
There you have it: my mom’s top secret table-scoring tips. They may sound simple but they’ve been working for her for years: hopefully now they’ll work for you!